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Why microinvesting app Acorns is trying to become a publisher

  • In the age of infinite content, every financial brand has a content marketing strategy. But Acorns insists its online magazine, Grow, is part of a much deeper mission to educate
  • Grow's team of 20-something financial journalist contributors has seen about five million visitors since it launched last year, converting readers to Acorns users and providing an alternative revenue stream for the brand
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Why microinvesting app Acorns is trying to become a publisher

In the age of infinite content, every financial brand has a content marketing strategy. But Acorns, the popular microinvesting app, insists its online magazine is part of a much deeper mission to educate customers.

In the winter of 2015, Acorns hired Jennifer Barrett — who came from CNBC and has held various editorial roles covering personal finance at Daily Worth, Newsweek and the Street, as well as other roles at Hearst Magazines and NBC Universal — to launch and run Grow, a personal finance site for millennials that’s separate from the app itself, as its founding editor. The following summer, she added another title to her name: chief education officer of Acorns.

“When we launched the Grow site at the beginning of last year, there really wasn’t much out there that was targeting millennials in terms of money sites,” Barrett said. “That’s obviously changed in the last year and a half. But at the time… we were filling that need.”

grow

Though Grow is published by Acorns, its content is pretty Acorns agnostic. Recent news headlines include How Amazon’s Whole Foods Takeover Could Affect Your Money, How Much Impact Does a CEO Have on a Company’s Stock? and What to Know About Trump’s Budget Proposal.

The only ads it runs are for the Acorns app, but it otherwise operates like a standard editorial site. Barrett, now as editor-in-chief of the site, leads a team of about 20 financial reporters recruited from news outlets like the New York Times, Bloomberg and Kiplinger on a freelance basis. There are about 12 reporters she counts as its most frequent contributors.

The site has also formed editorial content-sharing partnerships with sites like Business Insider, Refinery 29, Forbes and Marketwatch — though it doesn’t pay for placement, Barrett said.

“There are various arrangements — traditional editorial syndication arrangements or editorial partnerships where we promote their content and they promote ours,” Barrett said. “They’re based on the understanding that the content they get from us is going to experience a pretty high level of vetting and we aren’t sending them content that promotes Acorns.”

Grow has had more than five million since its early 2016 launch, according to Barrett. Readers and converted to Acorns users and vice versa, Barrett said, though she didn’t specify a conversion rate. Acorns runs some Grow content in the app, and Grow has a specific section dedicated to showing users what Acorns is and what they can get out of it that doesn’t mix with the rest of the editorial site.

grow acorns

In its inception, the company saw the site as a value-add for Acorns users, but Barrett maintains that vision has extended beyond its existing Acorns user base to include all potential users or even just passers by of the editorial site. She declined to say how much of Acorns budget is dedicated to Grow.

“There was an intention from the beginning to integrate education into the product so we can help our customers become confident and successful investors,” she said. “Beyond that, our mission is to look after the financial best interest of the up and coming.”

Acorns has more than 2 million customer accounts, it reported earlier this summer — 600,000 of which were opened in 2017 alone — and projects it will have processed a billion trades by the end of the year. Its large legacy competitors, like Fidelity, are expected to do 60 million in the same period.

Acorns is currently in the midst of a Series D fund raise, which currently totals $70 million from backers like Bain Capital Ventures, PayPal, Greycroft Growth Fund, e.Ventures Growth Fund, NYCA, Capital Group, Rakuten, Point72 and Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures. As the app evolves, Grow is sure to evolve with it. Barrett teased potential features, like video and “bite-sized” content.

Such ideas are part of ongoing conversations about how to measure impact, Barrett said.

“We’re at the point where we can integrate more articles into the app and can think about different formats,” she said, adding that it’s easier to measure impact with existing Acorns users because they already have insight data and insight on their behavior.

“One of the challenges or frustrations is you write a story with the intent of helping the reader but you don’t really know what kind of impact you’ve had. We spend a lot of time talking about how we can measure that impact.”

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